Art mimics nature with exhibit honoring NW NC landscape

by Jordan Green

Kate Lambeth had been hanging John Newman’snature photos at Inter_Section Gallery,the art space she owns on Trade Street, on arecent Thursday afternoon as she preparedfor a new installation before the First Friday GalleryHop.

She laid a level along the top to get a read. She askedNewman whether there should be anything hanging fromthe columns between the photos. And then she strippeddown to an undershirt.“Is it cocktail hour yet?” she asked.

“Just give me a beer drip,” Newman responded.The gallery had the look of a landscaping job site, whichit was in a way. John Long, who works with Newman,had laid a serpentine retaining wall from natural fi eldstonethat contained a dwarf white pine in the window displaycase. On the other side, Ian Byers was putting the fi nishingtouches on a mosaic installation.Newman has worked as a landscaper for about 25 years,but this is his second or third career.

He studied church musicin college, and then went to law school. Throughout the10 years Newman practiced law he gardened as a hobby,and eventually he decided to make it his vocation.Newman’s work can be seen by the public outsidethe William G. White Jr. Family YMCA at Hanes Park,where his waterfall mimics a mountainside streamfl anked by hemlock rhododendron and mountain laurel.Now his work can also be appreciated in a gallerysetting.

To complete the connection between nature and art,the exhibit, which is entitled Yadkin Refl ections, showcases Newmanand Long’s landscaping work with Byers, whose water-themed stonemosaics also grace the Y, fountain-maker Ethan Smith and photographerChristine Rucker. The Yadkin River is a subject of much ofRucker’s work.“The whole theme of the show is about how the natural scenery ofnorthwest North Carolina inspires our work,” Newman said.

Newman pointed to a photo he took of a hemlock tree with a tenaciouspurchase on an outcropping at Hanging Rock. The photo restedon the fl oor, ready to be hung. In front of it rested an oversized potcontaining a dwarf hemlock and rocks.

Translating the grandeur of Hanging Rock into the contained spaceof someone’s backyard is a matter of “using the same fundamental elementsof stones and sculpted trees and the allusion to water” throughthe arrangements of pebbles, Newman said.His passion for landscaping began with collecting plants. His senseof style grew out of tackling a practical challenge of presenting thegreatest variety of plants possible while still maintaining a sense ofnatural continuity.

“How do you present things in a way that presents them to the bestadvantage?” Newman said. “This is what bonsai is all about. What’sthe difference between a nursery plant and bonsai? It’s all abouthow it’s presented and what it’s presented in juxtaposition with or incontext with.”

He uses triangular designs — for example, a pine tree, a stone andan azalea — to create a sense of relationship.“It’s very much about creating an emotional response,” Newmansaid, commenting on the connection between nature and art. “Andtypically it’s a calming response.”Newman paused to catch his breath.

“It seemed like it was going to be so easy to set up this installation,”he said. “We thought, ‘Hey, it’s March, we won’t have muchgoing on.’ And then it turns out we get this beautiful weather.”